No Strings Attached

Joseph Marazzo

No Strings Attached

  • Words Jacqueline Raposo
  • Photographs Joseph Marazzo
No Strings Attached

No Strings Attached

Joseph Marazzo hasn’t made a bed in ten months. Nor has he cleaned a bathroom. He’s not lazy or sloppy. In fact, he’s clean-cut, sharp, and precise. And he’s so organized that he easily lists every single one of his possessions:

“I have three pairs of boots, three pairs of jeans, a dozen pair of underwear and socks, as many black t-shirts as I can fit with me, three button-down shirts, an Italian leather jacket, an Armani sports coat, and my boxing gear,” he explains. Add a laptop and some paperwork, and that’s it.

As the owner of the Virgola Italian wine and oyster bar franchise, Joseph travels from city to city helping teams build and open sultry spaces. He doesn’t have a home base. He lives in hotels instead, shouldering those possessions neatly in two small bags. “Every day I have a different view,” he shares of the expanse from whichever window he currently calls home. “It’s amazing.”

His life wasn’t always so mobile. At twenty-seven, he owned three apartments in New York City. While working in his thirties as a bartender and restaurant manager, he bought and restored a brownstone house in Brooklyn. In 2013, he sold it to lease a mid-1800s alleyway in New York’s West Village neighborhood and create his first restaurant.

At just six feet wide and sixty feet long, he worked creatively. The original Pennsylvania bluestone sidewalk resurfaced for his floor. He painted the brick walls a glossy black, hung drippy tapered candles, and welcomed guests via a massive wrought iron gate. Small stone tables and a red leather banquette invite cuddling, and only eighteen can sit at a time. To not waste any precious space on extensive cooking equipment, his cold kitchen offers guests a sharp list of imported cheese and salumi, fresh oysters from the east and west coasts, ceviche, and crudo. The wine list is exclusively Italian, capped off by his signature line of Virgola Prosecco, Spumante Rosato, Vermentino, Rosato, and Sangiovese.

No Strings Attached

The flagship Virgola quickly became a locally beloved gem.

Three years later, he itemized every detail so as to get his franchising license and expand. “The beauty of franchising is that you penetrate markets you wouldn’t have thought of,” he says. In 2016, he helped open Virgola “stores” in Ormond Beach, Florida; Tulsa, Oklahoma; and Green Bay, Wisconsin. He recently started construction in Asheville, North Carolina. “I like the challenge and the unknown,” he shares of starting in a new location. “I’m task oriented. When I’m working on a project, I see it through to the end, take a break, and move on.” Other cities are constantly being queried, and he flies around the country looking at potential locations and fielding future possibilities, too.

When renting his West Village apartment was no longer worth it, he let the lease go. Then he started getting rid of his worldly goods. “A girl” came over and helped whittle down his wardrobe to a streamlined look. Then he sold, donated, or gave away everything else, making his “staff and some neighbors very happy.” And that was that.  

 

No Strings Attached
No Strings Attached

“I’m a minimalist anyway, so I thought I’d love a nomadic lifestyle,” he says. For weeks at a time, he stays on location near a new franchise. He physically helps design and build the dining room. He organizes importing his line of Virgola wines from Italy, and sets franchise owners up with their oyster, cheese, and salumi purveyors.

When nothing immediate demands his attention, he flies to Las Vegas–his city of choice–to recharge. Airline tickets there are frequent and inexpensive for most cities nationally, the Uber ride from McCarran Airport to “the Strip” is cheap and quick, and there are always hotel rooms available. “You land in McCarran, open an app on your phone, and pick a place to stay,” he claims. “It’s always convenient.”

After considering location and price, he prioritizes hotels that have a gym and pool. Because of his limited wardrobe, laundry facilities help, too. “If I can’t find a laundry, I’ll just throw things away; every city has an Old Navy,” he advises potential future Minimalists regarding stocking up on t-shirts and underwear. When it comes to marking hotels that warrant a return trip, he credits a large desk over a large bed, citing lack of his New York office as one of the rare things he misses in his travels: “I miss my big ‘godfather’ desk where I could make my phone calls, have my big pen and doodle, and have my routine and space. For the few hours of the day where I have to crank out work, sitting on a little cocktail table, in a hotel room, or at Starbucks is hard.”

While the idea of not having one spot to call home might sound like a lonely, wandering sort of life, Joseph claims his relationships haven’t suffered. In fact, his freedom to fly to visit friends in other cities during his downtown has strengthened them. And while currently single, dating on the road has been “very colorful”. He meets women online and in person, crediting his outspoken and confident charm for how easy it is to meet new friends everywhere. “I’m not afraid of commitment,” he postulates of how long dating while living this transient lifestyle might work. “The day I get smacked in the face and feel something amazing, I’ll stay there. Or maybe she’ll come on the road with me!”

No Strings Attached

But for now, living with less brings him more.

His New York Virgola–the only one he personally owns–thrives. He claims his staff perform even better in his absence, rising to the occasion because they know he’s busy. The distance has helped him loosen his micromanaging reins, too, so that when he’s not working to solve problems he’s paying other people to fix anyway, he can truly let go and relax.

“We wake up in the morning, and rush,” he describes. “As soon as you get to work, you think about going home. I don’t have that anymore. This lifestyle has helped me evolve as a person. Right now, I’m sitting in the lobby at a hotel in Las Vegas having a glass of wine. It’s the middle of the afternoon, I’m talking to you, and I’m present.

That same presence comes back to material possessions. He can’t store something for a “special occasion”. When he’s given an expensive bottle of wine it gets opened almost immediately; that evening becomes a celebratory one. When recently gifted an expensive watch, he passed it on to someone else; he has one already and has no reason to keep another. “I feel like our society is all about acquisition and consuming,” he says of the stuff we hoard with which to mark the significance of living. “But there’s no price tag on creating memories. I create memories every day.”

No Strings Attached
No Strings Attached

When not building a new Virgola or sipping wine in Vegas, Joseph travels to train in famous boxing gyms around the country or flies to New York and works out at Gleason’s in Brooklyn, where he’s been training for years. Boxing helps him stay in shape physically, but he credits the speed and agility it requires mentally for his ability to be “comfortable being uncomfortable. I’m unencumbered. I don’t have the burden of structure. I’m like water: malleable. You’ve got to flow when you’ve got to flow,” he says of both boxing and his life right now. “I can do what I want, and I’m comfortable with that.”

This satisfying period mirrors a similar but much harder one from his past.

Twenty years ago, he moved from New York to Florida in an attempt to patch things up with his mother, from whom he’d been estranged. It didn’t work out. He found himself homeless and living out of his car on the beach until he found and a job and saved enough to move back home. Now, he leisurely sips his Pinot Grigio, flirting with the bartender and pondering the difference of then and now:

“It was scary, but even then I thought it was an adventure. I’m still living week-to-week, and day-to-day. I don’t know where I’m staying tomorrow night. I just know I have a one-way ticket, and I’m staying somewhere. It’s really an adventure.”

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